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1. Any large division of a building lying across its main axis at 90°. In an Early Christian basilica it was the large and high structure to the liturgical west of the apse, on occasion so high that the nave and aisles stopped against its wall, as in the C4 Constantinian basilica of San Pietro, Rome.

2. In a cruciform church the transept is often of the same section as the nave, and may have no aisles, or one, or two (called cross-aisles): eastern transept-aisles were usually subdivided into chapels. At the position where the transepts branched on either side of the crossing, often marked by a crossing-tower (e.g. Lincoln Cathedral), flèche (e.g. many French cathedrals), or lantern (e.g. Ely Cathedral), the choir continued eastwards, often divided immediately to the east of the crossing by a pulpitum or choir-screen. Larger medieval cathedrals (e.g. Lincoln) sometimes had secondary transepts at the west end of the nave (really a form of narthex), and to the east of the crossing, on either side of the sanctuary and choir-aisles: in both cases they would have had eastern chapels.


Jane Turner (1996)

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transept (trăn´sĕpt´), term applied to the transverse portion of a building cutting its main axis at right angles or to each arm of such a portion. Transepts are found chiefly in churches, where, extending north and south from the main body, they create a cruciform plan. They may consist of a central portion as wide as the church nave, with two side aisles or with only one. The rectangular or square space formed by the intersection with the nave is termed the crossing. The cross-hall of vaulted Roman basilicas probably inspired the builders of early Christian churches. This position of the transept remained unchanged. In Romanesque churches the transept became universal, while the development of vaulting unified it organically with the body of the building. Its height equaled that of the nave, while the heavy piers of the crossing frequently supported an exterior dome or tower. Transepts furnished additional space for altars and chapels. In some French Gothic cathedrals transepts projected only slightly from the building. Their ends, however, were richly emphasized externally, with sculptured portals and rose windows, as at Chartres and Amiens, or with a tower, as at Le Mans. In England the transepts, furnishing practically the only opportunity for altars, were long and of deep projection. The need for still more space resulted in the frequent provision of a second and minor transept farther east, behind the choir, as at Salisbury.

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tran·sept / ˈtranˌsept/ • n. (in a cross-shaped church) either of the two parts forming the arms of the cross shape, projecting at right angles from the nave: the north transept. DERIVATIVES: tran·sep·tal / tranˈseptl/ adj.

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transept transverse part of a cruciform church, either arm of this. XVI. — modL. transeptum ‘cross division’; see TRANS-, SEPTUM.

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transept in a cross-shaped church, either of the two parts forming the arms of the cross shape, projecting at right angles from the nave.

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